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ISLAMABAD: After wasting almost two weeks of the current session by indulging in a blame-game and verbal duels, the treasury and opposition members in the National Assembly on Thursday agreed on the formation of an ethics committee to improve the atmosphere of the house and maintain a parliamentary decorum.

The proposal for the formation of such a committee came from Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and it was readily welcomed by the opposition members, including Leader of the Opposition and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif.

The defence minister immediately took the floor during the Question Hour at a time when the treasury and opposition benches were again about to come to verbal blows after Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, while responding to a question about the proposed leasing of the building of the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation headquarters, accused the previous two governments of “destroying every institution in the country”.

He said the previous governments had recruited a large number of their cronies in various national institutions which were now running in losses.

The opposition members had just started their noisy protest when Mr Khattak intervened and said it had been decided during a parliamentary meeting of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) earlier in the day that the house proceedings would be run strictly in accordance with rules and the use of un-parliamentary language would be discouraged. He said a committee comprising members from the treasury and opposition benches should be formed to devise a joint strategy for smooth running of the house. He also asked the speaker to run the house in accordance with rules.

NA resumes debate on ‘existing economic condition of Pakistan’

Taking the floor, Shahbaz Sharif welcomed the move and regretted the use of unbecoming language by the members from both sides of the aisle. He complained that some ministers used to level allegations without presenting any evidence. By doing so, he said, the ministers were not doing any service to democracy.

He said the use of abusive language by the members of parliament was “creating an air of despondency among the people” who had sent them to the assembly to promote democratic traditions and play a constructive and positive role for a better future of the country.

“For the past few days, we have turned this house into a fish market,” Mr Sharif said, adding that they were here to discuss national issues and do legislation.

“If we want respect for this house, we should use parliamentary language and remain confined to facts,” he added.

“I welcome the proposal of the honourable defence minister with sincerity of my heart. A committee should be formed comprising members from across the aisle to prepare a code of conduct to avoid such painful incidents and save the precious time of the nation,” he added.

Former prime minister and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Raja Pervez Ashraf also supported the idea, saying that by using abusive language, the members of the house were only ridiculing themselves.

Mr Khattak welcomed the gestures shown by the opposition over his proposal and requested the speaker to form an ethics committee. He said the committee would undertake the task of fixing responsibility if any unpleasant incident occurred in the house.

Speaker Asad Qaiser directed Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan to move a motion for the constitution of the ethics committee, recognising that “such committees are present in many democratic countries, even in the UK’s House of Commons”.

Later, the house resumed the stalled debate on the “existing economic conditions of Pakistan”.

Taking part in the debate, PPP’s Naveed Qamar said there was a need for mobilisation of the country’s resources. He said the government would have to take tough decisions and it was its responsibility to make sure that there was less burden on the people because of such decisions.

He also asked the government to tell the house as to how the bailout package from Saudi Arabia would be utilised. He said they were hearing that dollars would rain in the country after the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to China, but it did not happen. “Finally, the government is now going to the IMF,” he said, adding: “This parliament should be taken into confidence on the talks with the Fund.” He regretted that the government increased the prices of oil, gas and electricity even before the start of dialogue with the IMF.

Mr Qamar said the government had slowed down the economy by slashing development projects and reducing government expenses. Inflation, he said, had increased at the fastest rate in three months.

“The country is heading towards recession,” he warned.

PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal said if the government would not tolerate criticism in this house, then it would have to face the same criticism on roads. He said the main problem the country was facing was a lack of foreign direct investment. He said the PML-N government had doubled tax collection in five years and they expected that the PTI government would also double it in the next five years. He asked the government not to paint everything black before the international community only to target the opposition parties as it would discourage foreign investment.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2018